Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, Response And Recovery

DATE:11TH SEP 2019

While lots of things will be permanently damaged or lost entirely after flood, fire or other disasters, it may be possible to salvage surviving furniture, artworks, photographs, documents, books, jewellery, medals and other keepsakes.

You can reduce the risks to your collections through taking the right precautions. Read our technical guidance note on disaster preparedness and response.


Blue Shield Australia (BSA) promotes the protection of cultural heritage against threats of all kinds, and aims to contribute to efforts to prepare the Australian community to respond to such threats. BSA encourages emergency preparedness in all cultural heritage organisations, including archives, galleries, libraries, museums and heritage places.

Emergency Management Australia is the relevant division of the Australian Government.

Arts Victoria has developed a webpage to promote a range of services and guidelines for arts and cultural organisations in bushfire-affected communities.

In some parts of Australia, cultural heritage organisations are collaborating under 'Memoranda of Understanding' to provide mutual aid in times of emergency, and to prepare for emergencies via training and other programs. Two examples are DISACT (in the Australian Capital Territory) and the Ballarat Collections Network (in Victoria).

Prevent and Prepare

Be Prepared (guidelines for writing a disaster preparedness plan)

Bushfires... Protect Your Precious Possessions (a free booklet produced by conservators at The University of Melbourne with funding from Emergency Management Australia.)


State Emergency Services: ACT   NSW   NT   QLD   SA   TAS   VIC   WA


Disaster Assist - a resource page from the Australian Government including fact sheets for 'Coping After a Disaster'.

Salvaging damaged collections – videos from the State Library of Queensland.

NSW Government State Archives and Records has tips on Dealing with wet records.

To assist in the recovery of cultural materials, the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials has prepared several resources:

We can arrange for a conservator to attend your site to help with the salvage and/or assessment of damaged items. Call (02) 9417 3311 or 0411 692 696, 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.

Health and safety must remain everyone's top priority:

  • Anyone attempting to salvage their possessions should wear protective clothing - especially gloves, masks and eye protection.
  • Never attempt to salvage belongings at the expense of your own safety.
  • Avoid breathing in or touching hazardous materials.
  • Risks in fire-damaged areas can include particulates, exposed asbestos, lead-containing building materials and chemical residues. Some objects themselves can pose health hazards when damaged - e.g. lead-containing glass, lead paint, objects treated with pesticides etc. If water has been used to put out the fire, mould may also be an issue.
  • Risks in flood-affected areas include mould, bacteria, disease pathogens and exposure to waste matter and effluents carried with flood waters.

General handling advice for damaged items:

  • Minimise handling of damaged material - handling surfaces can drive soot and other particulates further into fabrics and other porous materials and make them impossible to remove.
  • Avoid handling objects by damaged or weakened areas - e.g support ceramics from the base, rather than lifting by handles.
  • Avoid placing pressure on blistered or lifting surfaces - e.g. on paintings and photographs.
  • Place items in supportive boxes or plastic containers until you can obtain further advice.
  • Keep dirty, wet or fire-damaged items separate from cleaner / drier items to prevent contamination.
  • Place wet items in areas with good air circulation to aid drying and to help prevent mould growth.

About this page:

Most of the material on this page was originally developed and published online by the former Collections Council of Australia in conjunction with Blue Shield Australia and is reproduced here with their permission.

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